Hard Power, Soft Power & The Russo-Georgian War

There are a couple of columns I’ve read this morning about the Russo-Georgian war that have stuck with me. The first is by Spengler and while I don’t agree with most of what he has to say, there were some points he made that shouldn’t be discounted,

If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were president of the United States, would Iran try to build a nuclear bomb? Would Pakistan provide covert aid to al-Qaeda? Would Hugo Chavez train terrorists in Venezuela? Would leftover nationalities with delusions of grandeur provoke the great powers? Just ask Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now wishes he never tried to put his 4 million countrymen into strategic play.

…The number of flashpoints for violence in the world has grown in inverse proportion to their importance. The world is full of undead tribes with delusions of grandeur, and soon-to-be-extinct peoples who rather would go out with a bang than a whimper.

Along similar lines, here’s an excerpt from Victor Davis Hanson’s spot-on take on the war,

Together with the dismal NATO performance in Afghanistan, the Georgian incursion reveals the weakness of the Atlantic Alliance. The tragic irony is unmistakable. NATO was given a gift in not having made Georgia a member, since otherwise an empty ritual of evoking Article V’s promise of mutual assistance in time of war would have effectively destroyed the Potemkin alliance.

…Indeed, tired of European lectures, the Russians are now telling the world that soft power is, well, soft. Moscow doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, the European Union, the World Court at the Hague, or any finger-pointing moralist from Geneva or London. Did anyone in Paris miss any sleep over the rubble of Grozny?

…The Russians have sized up the moral bankruptcy of the Western Left. They know that half-a-million Europeans would turn out to damn their patron the United States for removing a dictator and fostering democracy, but not more than a half-dozen would do the same to criticize their long-time enemy from bombing a constitutional state.

The Russians rightly expect Westerners to turn on themselves, rather than Moscow — and they won’t be disappointed. Imagine the morally equivalent fodder for liberal lament: We were unilateral in Iraq, so we can’t say Russia can’t do the same to Georgia. (As if removing a genocidal dictator is the same as attacking a democracy). We accepted Kosovo’s independence, so why not Ossetia’s? (As if the recent history of Serbia is analogous to Georgia’s.) We are still captive to neo-con fantasies about democracy, and so encouraged Georgia’s efforts that provoked the otherwise reasonable Russians (As if the problem in Ossetia is our principled support for democracy rather than appeasement of Russian dictatorship).

…We talk endlessly about “soft” and “hard” power as if humanitarian jawboning, energized by economic incentives or sanctions, is the antithesis to mindless military power. In truth, there is soft power, hard power, and power-power — the latter being the enormous advantages held by energy rich, oil-exporting states. Take away oil and Saudi Arabia would be the world’s rogue state, with its medieval practice of gender apartheid. Take away oil and Ahmadinejad is analogous to a run-of-the-mill central African thug. Take away oil, and Chavez is one of Ronald Reagan’s proverbial tinhorn dictators.

Here’s the reality of the world: most nations would cut the throats of their neighbors to put a dollar in their pockets, if they were only offered 50 cents to leave them alone.

In other words, the law of the jungle, not the law of tea room chats prevails on planet earth.

Does that mean that soft power is pointless? Not at all. However, the West has grown more and more reluctant to use even its soft power (See Iran for one perfect example of that) and since using old school European hard-power is abhorrent to much of the West, other than in the US and Israel, they’ve let their capabilities and will erode to the breaking point.

So, when Iran builds nuclear weapons, OPEC works to keep oil prices high, or Russia invades Georgia, their expectation is that ultimately, we will respond with nothing more than empty words.

The problem with this is that, despite what so many people would like to believe, most of the world is not comprised of civilized, reasonable, and good people. Therefore, simply explaining our point of view to them and looking for common ground isn’t going to fix the problem.

That doesn’t mean we have to haul out the bombers for every situation, but it does mean that unless we respond to provocations like the one that has just occurred in Georgia in some sort of meaningful way, they will become more frequent and serious across the world as the bad actors deliberately test us to see how much they can get away with.

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